Mother Guillemin was our international superioress from 1962 until her death in 1968. Her “letters” to the community at that time are so inspirational they were bound and recently put into a hardcover book binding format.
When I was in our novitiate, the storage room in the basement was being cleaned out. There were many books and reading materials that had belonged to our deceased Sisters. We were offered the opportunity to go down and see if there were any we wanted. Sr. Cynthia and I hustled down as soon as we could so we could get copies of Mother Guillemin’s letters.
Her writings were so prophetic and inspirational that they are classics. What she wrote in the 1960’s is as relevant today as it was then. In her March 1966 retreat talk she prayed and challenged us to “…to BECOME , what we claim to Be.” Isn’t that basically the same message we are hearing from Pope Francis? We must live authentically as we strive for holiness following the example of Jesus Christ.
Mother Guillemin was not just an inspirational leader for the Daughters of Charity. She was an auditor for the 3rd and 4th sessions of Vatican II. She was one of only 10 women religious to participate. These Council photos are from Carmel Mc Enroy’s book Guests in Our Own Housewhich tells of the women’s role at the Council.
On October 26, 1964 she gave a conference to the bishops of France on the problems in the life of active women religious. These bishops were writing Perfectae Caritas. In 1967 she was named by Pope Paul VI as a consultant to the Justice and Peace Commission. The consultants named for this commission were 4 bishops, 4 priests, 4 lay experts and Mother Guillemin.
In February of 1968, she was enrolled as a consultant of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. Her talk to the SCRSI came shortly before her sudden death a month after being enrolled.
So, what did she bring with her? She was a woman of deep prayer and committed to a life of conversion which she also encouraged in the community. When she was first called to be a Sister, she thought she was to become a contemplative at a convent with perpetual adoration. Yet, God placed upon her heart to be a servant of those living in poverty.
She became a leader young in community, but her attitude remained that of one to serve others. The superiors in our local houses are called Sister Servants. The Sister Servants are there toserve the others.
In the biography written of her life for the Sisters, we hear of her attitude of servant and courage in serving those living in poverty. In the midst of bombardment of Paris during World War II, Sister Suzanne created a peaceful haven among the chaos and fear for the Sisters and the people of the area.
Sister Suzanne and another Sister would take a train outside their district during the occupation to pick vegetables to bring back into the city. The area they were given permission to pick from was near a railway junction and dangerous as a bomb target. It is written that the fields were pockmarked by V-2 rockets.
Then and even after the occupation, she would go by train as far as Brittany (over 4 hour drive now from Paris) with empty suitcases to bring back flour. On one occasion, it is told, that despite the danger, she went to Brittany and returned home with 4 suitcases of flour–one under each arm and one in each hand.
Contemplation and Action–she is a prophetic model of taking both seriously! Her writings serve as a road map for us on what it takes to be contemplatives in action. Prayer and conversion would be at the top of the chart! She whole-heartedly believed in God being in the events and in those we serve.
Let me conclude with a quote from Mother Guillemin’s annual retreat talk of 1966:
“We must, therefore, my dear Sisters, become souls who are in a perpetual contemplation of God. It is marvelous to see Him so near us, so attentive to our needs and to our brothers and all who live round about us. This is the MYSTICISM of a Daughter of Charity; it is nothing else than this life of Faith which opens our eyes unceasingly to the Presence of God around us, which makes us continue His life. We must learn TO SEE HIM…if we see God in all things, our life will pass in a sort of perpetual jubilation.”
A special thanks to Sister Kieran Kneaves for her presentations on Mother Suzanne Guillemin!